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Three of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s 17 ministers confirmed Tuesday they will visit Yasukuni Shrine on Aug. 15, the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II.

The three are Finance Minister Masajuro Shiokawa; Takeo Hiranuma, minister of economy, trade and industry; and Jin Murai, national public safety commission chairman.

Five of the remaining 14 ministers would not publicly state their intentions.

Hiranuma supports Prime Minister Koizumi’s controversial plan to visit Yasukuni Shrine on Aug. 15, saying at a news conference that Koizumi should do so because the visit simply aims to console the spirits of the war dead.

Asked about the possible impact on trade ties with China, Hiranuma said bilateral ties will be restored over the long term despite some likely short term strains.

Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka said Tuesday she will respect whatever decision Koizumi makes on the visit to the shrine, which commemorates war dead, including Class A war criminals who were hanged after the war.

“I have fully explained to the prime minister my thoughts and what the neighboring countries are saying, and I also told our neighbors what (Koizumi) thinks,” said Tanaka, who has urged the prime minister to cancel the trip out of concern it may harm Japan’s relations with China and South Korea.

“He is currently thinking the matter over carefully, and I think we have entered a stage when we should respect his decision,” Tanaka told reporters.

Koizumi’s wish to visit the Shinto shrine on the Aug. 15 anniversary of Japan’s surrender has drawn fire from China and South Korea, which as victims of Japan’s prewar and wartime aggression see the visit as an attempt to justify Japan’s militaristic past.

Although Tanaka earlier appeared adamant on trying to prevent Koizumi’s visit, she said, “It is an issue that comes down to the principles of each individual.”

Yasukuni Shrine commemorates about 2.5 million Japanese who have died in wars since the mid-19th century. Since 1978, it has also honored seven Class A war criminals tried and hanged after World War II.

105 back Koizumi visit

More than 100 lawmakers formed a nonpartisan group Tuesday aimed at supporting Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine on Aug. 15, the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II.

The group, headed by former Justice Minister Okiharu Yasuoka, is expected to meet Koizumi today and encourage him to make the controversial visit despite mounting pressure from neighboring Asian nations.

Forty-two lawmakers and 63 politicians’ secretaries — from Koizumi’s Liberal Democratic Party, coalition partner the New Conservative Party as well as the opposition Liberal Party and the Democratic Party of Japan — took part in Tuesday’s gathering.

Shoichi Nakagawa, a member of the LDP, said he felt the need to show the public that there are many lawmakers who support Koizumi’s move amid a seeming increase in the number of people opposing the visit.

“If Koizumi fails to keep his promise to visit the shrine, the LDP should hold another presidential election,” a lawmaker was quoted as saying by LDP member Katsuei Hirasawa.

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